Oh Meredith, why can’t you just write a nice, short, concise post?
I really don’t know what happens! I start writing and my fingers just seem to take over. This is what happens when my husband goes away and leaves me alone with my thoughts. Sorry folks!
Something I frequently think about when I go to conferences is the whole idea of “service to the profession.” I’m not a fan of the idea that librarians must provide service outside of their daily work and I think, for way too long, there was a very specific prescription for how one even could provide service to the profession. I guess it’s the obstinate anti-authoritarian in me that hates being told that I need to do anything. On the flip side, I have discovered that helping and sharing with other librarians is really fun, whether it’s sharing knowledge or code, serving on a committee, teaching, writing or just sitting down with a colleague and showing them how something works. Even if it wasn’t fun, it’s worth helping your colleagues, because we would want someone to do the same for us (and we may need them to do the same for us one day).
I don’t like the term “service to the profession” because it feels so impersonal. We are the profession. Me. You. Your colleagues. The other library bloggers you read. The people you see at conferences. When you do something good for the profession, more often than not, you are doing something good for librarians. You’re not usually doing something for ALA, ACRL, PLA or some other organization; you’re doing it to benefit people just like you.
There are so many generous librarians out there who are putting their time and their passion into making things better for other librarians (usually for nothing). Sharing just seems to be the norm in this profession, which is why we really should be more into open source software and the open source development model than we are (maybe we’re better at sharing than we are at collaborating?). I’m amazed by the generosity of the people I meet in this profession. I have only e-mailed one “important person” in this field for help who blew me off; everyone else has been willing to help and offer advice when I ask for it. Librarians are frequently willing to take that hard-won knowledge and give it away. I do it all the time. Maybe I shouldn’t? It’s hard to be an expert when you give people the tools to learn as much as (if not more than) you about a subject. From experience, it feels much better to see someone you taught using the tools successfully and passing that knowledge on to others than it is to hold onto knowledge with a death grip.
This sharing is not the norm in many other fields. In some fields, people hold onto their knowledge as if it were made of gold. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is money. Knowledge is job security. I’m friendly with the University Webmaster and he once told me that he has a huge list of resources for web design. When I suggested he put his collection on del.icio.us, he balked, saying that he doesn’t share that information; he just gives it out to people he likes in drips and drabs. I’ve gotten a few of those drips and drabs, so I guess I should consider myself lucky. He’s a great guy, very willing to help me when I’m trying to figure something out. But he feels, like many, that his knowledge is what gives him an edge over the competition and that giving it away completely will make him lose his edge. I can’t entirely disagree with all that. I know that my tech knowledge helped me get my job and does give me an edge in my work. It makes me indispensable (or at least less dispensable than I would be otherwise). So why would I want to give away my intellectual capital so freely? I’ll tell you a secret… it feels really good. I remember the first time I heard that someone started a wiki because of what I taught them. It was an amazing feeling. Giving it all away is a whole lot more satisfying than hoarding it.
Maybe it’s because sharing is so natural in our field that some people reacted so negatively to the idea of a library charging librarians to attend webinars offered by their staff. The Orange County Library System in Orlando, Florida is one of the most innovative and technology-forward systems in the country. I am constantly impressed with the things they do, from creating online tutorials to offering classes on podcasting to getting young people using technology creatively. Clearly, they have a lot to teach all of us. However, instead of freely sharing that information, they are charging librarians for it:
PUSHING IT FORWARD: TAKING YOUR LIBRARY TO THE NEXT LEVEL!
Our technology series can give you the edge you need. The Orange County Library System is a recognized leader in information technology. Grab lunch (or breakfast!), login and join colleagues from around the country for presentations by OCLS staff, discussion and idea sharing online. RESERVE YOUR SEAT TODAY! $75 per session or $199 for entire series
My initial reaction, like Helene’s, was quite negative. I felt that it was awful to be making money that way off your fellow librarians. I especially felt that way when I saw that they are currently doing Helene’s Learning 2.0 program, for which she has generously shared the model, the materials and her expertise. I am not against libraries charging a bit for Webinars to cover the costs of the technology infrastructure or to get people to show up, but at $75 a pop, I can’t imagine they aren’t trying to turn a profit. Even if just 20 people attended each session, they would make $4,500. I guess it adds insult to injury to know that they used to offer these webinars for free.
I started to think more about my reaction to this last night. What’s wrong with making money this way? Lots of other organizations offer for-pay trainings for their peers. Some non-profits offer classes in their subject areas for money. Also, our library organizations offer classes that we have to pay for. Like Helene, I find it frustrating to see people charging for what we’re willing to give away for free. However, while it’s not something I’d do, it’s not wrong. It just doesn’t fit into our view of professional service. I may be totally off-base, but maybe we’re reacting to this in the same way some people reacted to that library in Arizona getting rid of Dewey numbers? It’s certainly not something I’d ever do at my library, but you can’t blame ’em for trying, especially in Florida with the budget disasters going on there.
I guess this feels to me like someone using open source code in a proprietary and costly application. We all got our ideas from somewhere. None of us can pretend that we do not owe someone a debt of gratitude for some of the cool things we’ve implemented in our work or outside-of-work professional life. I got the idea for Five Weeks to a Social Library from the ALA 2.0 Bootcamp. I got the inspiration for using del.icio.us to create annotated web guides that are syndicated on the library website by looking at the Washington State Library’s blog. Helene Blowers was inspired to do Learning 2.0 by something Stephen Abrams wrote. Whether we copy an idea wholesale, make it our own, or just use it for inspiration, we can’t pretend that there isn’t someone in this profession we don’t owe a debt of gratitude to. If someone was willing to freely share their knowledge with us, why not pay it forward?
When we were choosing participants for Five Weeks to a Social Library, I really had my eye out for people whose applications indicated they would pay it forward. I think we chose well, because many of our former participants are teaching their colleagues about social software and are even spreading the gospel beyond their library. One of our participants, Holly Ristau, gave a talk this month on wikis at the Tribal College Librarians Institute meeting. How cool is that? It’s really gratifying for all of us who were involved in making Five Weeks happen, to see our participants using what they’ve learned and giving back to the profession.
The other great thing that comes from sharing are the connections you make with other people. Had I not chosen this path, I would never have met all the wonderful people I’m now connected to; many of whom I consider friends. They have inspired me, challenged me, supported me, made me laugh, and held me up in tough times. I’ve connected to a much bigger world outside of my library and I think that is a huge benefit that comes from “professional service.” I feel unbelievably lucky to have the friends in the profession I do, and I can’t imagine how different my life would have been had I kept things locked up inside.
We all have something to offer others in the profession. If you think you don’t, it’s more a reflection of your self-esteem than any reality. Have you ever had a good idea? Do you know about some really cool technology, product or idea that could benefit libraries? Have you done something at your library that was successful (a program, service, technology, etc.)? No matter how small you may think that achievement is, there may be someone out there right now looking for what you already know or trying to do what you’ve already achieved. Why not share it? Share it on the Library Success Wiki. Share it on listservs. Share it on a blog. Share it in a journal. Share it at a conference. Whatever you do, just please do share it. Think of how much easier our lives would be if we stopped reinventing the wheel and started sharing more.
On the flip side, I think there is a danger of giving too much. On the panel I was a part of for PLA, Tom Peters described “Second Life burnout.” Lots of people would volunteer for the Second Life Library 2.0 and would spend hours there, staffing the reference desk and just generally making things great. They’d spend so much time that they’d end up neglecting their first life. Finally, something would have to give and many of them left the Second Life Library never to return. I think people who are very excited about something can run the risk of working on it with a level of intensity that is unsustainable in the long term. Second Lifers do it. Wikipedians do it. Lots of people involved in online communities do it. I do it. It’s important to find that balance that allows you to work on the projects you’re passionate about and not let go of the other things in your life.
It was telling for me how exhausted I felt throughout the ALA conference; like I’d been run over by a bus. It’s been a crazy few years and I haven’t really had the chance to stop and take stock in a long time. I’ve been feeling kind of at loose ends lately; like I’m not sure what my next step should be and what I should be moving towards in the long term. I first started writing and speaking to establish myself professionally (I had no idea at the time how much I would enjoy both activities). I was working towards something. I’m at a point where I feel like I have a lot of options, but I’m not sure which direction to move in. I’ve discovered that I’m most passionate about something (teaching and online education) that I never thought was “my thing” before, and now I don’t know how to reorganize my priorities and get to do the sorts of things I want to do (like adjunct instruction for a library school program or technology training). My career sort of took on a life of its own over the past two years and now I need to make real decisions in order to move towards the career I want two, five, ten and twenty years from now. But I’m not sure what my next step should be. As I told Andrew Pace at ALA, “I just need someone to tell me what I should be doing!” Pretty ironic for someone who hates to be told what to do as much as I do.
But whatever I’m doing, I will be sure to share it with you. The connections I have made with you all through these magical tubes we call the Internet make me feel so excited about my work and this profession. To all of you who read blogs and listservs but never comment, consider sharing ideas. Consider connecting to others. While it may seem like “just more work” the value of the connections you make to other (both on an emotional and professional level) are immeasurable.
I think we all need to find our mix of things we do for free to support the profession and the things for which we charge. And I mean in both individual and organizational contexts. Charging can actually be used to keep demand from being overwhelming, for example, as well as perhaps compensate you for your personal time. In my own case, I do a lot for the profession for free, but then I also charge for some things as well. Never charging for anything is a fast track to burnout, but always charging is professionally indefensible.
I totally agree, Roy and I think that mix is different for everyone. I see being compensated for speaking as being compensated for your time. There’s always a lot that goes into preparing a talk, especially for people like me who have to practice it a few times before giving it. While I certainly don’t mind getting paid, I also find that speaking at something like ALA that I don’t get paid for is really rewarding because you’re meeting people from a really different population than you often meet at other conferences. I’m not sure what I was trying to say in this post (other than that Adam should never leave me home alone!), but I’m starting to realize that there are often rewards beyond career advancement and beyond money that we get when we give these talks sometimes (the personal connections we make). Doesn’t mean I don’t want to get paid, but I think there are a lot of no-pay conferences that are worth doing. 🙂
“Second Lifers do it. Wikipedians do it.”
Yup. I was perhaps the first of the SL librarians to leave due to insustainable levels of involvement. Sometime later, I would join and then leave Wikipedia for much the same reason. Podcasting too. Why do I keep trying?
That should have been “unsustainable”, eh?
lol! It’s a new word, Greg! 🙂
I think people like you and I tend to jump into things with perhaps a little too much passion and dedication. And while it’s great for a short-term thing, it just doesn’t work for an extended period of time because life catches up with us. I’d like to believe that we’re capable of finding a balance, though it really requires us to stop ourselves from getting TOO involved.
Good luck on finding that balance. I think your Uncontrolled Vocabulary idea is really cool (I remember it from CIL ’06!) and I’ll definitely be listening tonight. I usually go to bed pretty early, but I’d love to participate once I’ve recovered from my ALA hangover. The conversations we all can have together are so exciting.
I think I also suffer from a severe case of lostinterestitis.
Just a month ago, I thought that I wasn’t good enough or important enough to speak at conferences or workshops. I was so confident of this, that I went so far as to ask for permission from highly respected librarians to put together a presentation on a topic of great interest to me. I did this because I felt that I would ruin their work if I didn’t have this permission, or if I did a horrible job representing the existing scholarly research on the topic in the presentation.
Admittedly, I have no game. I don’t have a CV. I’m not even a “professional librarian.” All I have are ideas, and, according to some of my peers, potential. I will occasionally have moments where I feel that there’s nothing new left to do, and that there’s no room left in librarianship for someone new and/or less “professional” to jump in and help the profession grow.
Then I realized that librarianship (hopefully) isn’t dying with the existing professional librarians. If there is going to be a future in this profession, someone has to be there to carry it forward. It took a while, but I finally figured out that I am indeed allowed to be part of the future of librarianship. Allowed… maybe even encouraged. If I have the potential to help librarianship grow and remain relevant in the future, it would be extremely selfish of me to keep my ideas to myself just because I feel that more established people in the field may already have the idea and/or entire topic entirely covered.
I plan to be here for a while… maybe another 50-70 years (hopefully with the benefit of some advances in medical science). Just as I said that it would be selfish for me to keep myself away from the profession, it would be equally selfish for the existing professionals to unavail themselves to people who are eager to carry on (or improve… imagine that?) their legacy. In the past three months, I’ve made connections to people in librarianship that I never thought I’d make so soon because I was afraid of being shunned for not being at a more advanced stage of my career. Instead of being shunned, I was welcomed.
As for the other topic (charging for training)… I’m a bit stuck on this one. In my current daily work, I see many legal resources come across my desk every day, straight from the vendors. What I have discovered is that some information costs more than other information. The physical format doesn’t always tell the story. A 300-page state reporter might cost $30, while a 50-page looseleaf update to a treatise might cost $400. The people editing a treatise have to put a lot more effort and research into their work than the people putting together volumes of court reports. Creating an information resource vs. compiling data.
And then I think of the concept of open source. There’s free, free (as in beer), and free (as in kittens). Someone has to create the information resource, because information doesn’t grow on trees. In the open source world, I’ve only ever seen money involved with providing software when something else was added to the package. For example, one can buy a Linux distribution in a store for $40. The customer would be paying for the convenience of the software on nicely-prepared media, as well as printed manuals and maybe even access to the distributor’s customer service. Another example — the open source ILS. I could download Koha, build it from the source code, and install it on my system. Beyond that, it takes a lot more to make the software function well for the user. Not every user/institution can dedicate a lot of resources to all the details of maintenance and data migration.
I don’t know how any of that last paragraph helps the discussion, or if any of it is new to anyone reading, but I’ve rambled a lot longer than I thought I would.
I think that many librarians are Gatherers and Givers – amassing information, resources, stuff – and freely sharing what they’ve accumulated. Literacy social workers…
The only thing I’ve participated in outside of work that I’ve charged for is the conference I organised – but I wasn’t paid (and paid to register myself).
I’m happy to put time and effort into things because they pay off in other ways – like a higher salary because of extra skills I’ve learnt as a result of professional development, and of course all the incredible people I’ve met. The last four years in this profession have been so much better than the first three – because I got involved and met people.
Conferences are a great time to reevaluate and work out where your career is going – they’re where I’ve worked out all my big career interests. Good luck with working out your next step.
I believe the big difference here is not the issue of being compensated for time and effort. I also charge for speaking engagements (not at conferences I plan to attend on behalf of my library) but it’s because I have to use my own vacation time for these requests and do all the prep outside of work. In OCLS example, I don’t quite see where the “request” is? They have set up the forum under the guise of “discussion and idea sharing” — not with outside speaker they have brought it, but with their own staff.
While I can understand the hardship of their situation, many libraries are facing this. The pure fact that libraries have collaborated and share knowledge so generously over the years is in part a huge reason of why we have prevailed. I can understand recouping costs (but to be honest, with their online presence and investment in tutorial apps, I find it hard to believe this is the case), but $75 is hefty by my book for general knowledge sharing with peers using your own tools. I truly hope that this is not a trend that we see grows and continues.
Thanks for posting both sides of the coin Meredith. As always you bring up great insights. I think it’s good to see discussions like this. Now I know when I see a long post from you that Adam is away and traveling. 🙂
I also hope that this isn’t a growing trend. I want to see education becoming more accessible for librarians, not less. I think it’s a great idea for libraries to offer training for other libraries, but I don’t want to see it be just another thing that’s only for the “have” libraries. I don’t feel that it’s as wrong as you do, I do not like it one bit and wonder what impelled them to go from offering free courses to $75 (a huge leap in any field for a 90 minute Webcast).
I can imagine that if they charged $20 for these talks, they’d get more people in, would benefit more people, and might even make money faster. $75 is a really high price point and I’d be curious to hear from OCLS why they chose that price and why they started charging in the first place. It’s always hard to judge without knowing the whole story.
I agree with Roy that it’s about balance.
Regarding OCLS, there were only six comments on that post, so unless there were others elsewhere it could be hard to extrapolate what the comments really mean. In my case, I’m not categorically opposed to a library charging other libraries for CE, but I do believe that it bodes poorly to wrap such a talk in high jargon. For $75, they better *deliver.* Again, we weren’t there at the internal meetings. Who knows what mysteries beat in the heart of your average big library system.
Roy’s comment that institutions as well as individuals need to decide on fee versus free is quite astute. Sharing among institutions is important, but institutions have to pay bills, as well. And who knows but the webmaster sitting on his magic pile of links got burned by someone riding on the coattails of his efforts. There’s nothing quite like hearing your own ideas come out of someone else’s mouth, without attribution, to make you a little more close-hold. That’s not the way the world should work, but it happens.
I doubt $75/head is turning a huge profit for OCLS. It could well be that $75 a head is covering the software and labor, which they are using for other things. (Because I live in Florida, I’d be happy to give them a free “Death to Jargon” consult on the language if they let me sit in on a class to see what they’re up to.)
There have been a number of good posts about burnout over the last couple of years; Jenny Levine and I have both meditated at length on this topic. Juggling a successful career is a matter of balancing pace, compensation, and service contributions, as well as ensuring that your personal life always comes first.
Meredith, et al. – lots of good points here, both in terms of individual choices (will I charge for this talk?) and organizational choices (should we provide this program for free?). These are questions that we all faced before the rise of technologies that made it feasible to design and deliver high-quality programming for “free” (like kittens) to our colleagues. As Karen says, it’s about balance – individuals need to balance the demands made on their time (but, as Roy said, to be flexible about applying the rubric of compensation), and organizations need to be thoughtful about the projects they conduct that, while requiring an investment of time and technology, may serve as a (small) revenue stream in an uncertain budget environment.
I’d like to get back to Meredith’s points about sharing and paying it forward. She’s quite right that librarians are unusual in the degree to which, as a profession, we are open to sharing and collaboration. I love that about us. In the academy, especially, it is not the norm (or, in places where it is, it often looks very different). I would place Student Affairs professionals and faculty development professionals in a similar category. Writing Center staff, too. Not universally, of course, but as a general rule (as bounded by my experience). That’s one of the reasons I balk at some of the comments elsewhere in the blogosphere about individuals choosing not to present at ALA owing to the admittedly absurd strictures ALA has about compensation. That policy is wrong, and it should be changed. But, even if it is not (and I’ve spoken my fair share at ALA/ACRL/AASL/SLA for free), I always remember that someone spoke for free to me when I joined this profession. Someone taught me. Someone inspired me. And, if that someone had an MLS, they did it for free.
So, thanks to all of those people, and thanks to Meredith, Michael Stephens, and others for teaching me for free now through blogs, wikis, etc. Like Roy, I try to balance my free gigs with my paid gigs, but I fashion that balance by thinking about paying it forward.
I, like many of the other other people commenting, do a combination of paying forward and asking for payment. In 2005 my friend and I created a marketing and design consulting firm called Fearless Future. We work with libraries, non profits and small businesses. We also do a combination of pro bono and paid work. We love to present at conferences and also give away tips on our Market the Future blog.
Strangely enough, everyone I talked with at ALA DC was experiencing the same kind of “conference fatigue”, a term coined by the wonderful and eccentric librarian Gwendolyn Reece, that you speak of…
I wonder if it is just not sustainable to go to this many conferences a year OR if maybe with all of our new technologies it just IS NOT NECESSARY. We are all in contact in so many new ways. Your blog was referred to me by my colleague Lisa Laskaris who is also another amazing, wonderful, brilliant librarian and I always enjoy reading it.
I agree with you for the most part that librarians are sharers but I think that another comment you said rings more true
“We all have something to offer others in the profession. If you think you don’t, it’s more a reflection of your self-esteem than any reality. Have you ever had a good idea?”
This issue of self -esteem is something that my colleagues and I are trying to address. Stayed tuned to a whole set of post called : bring more joy back to librar-ness!
I wonder why a few people seem so fearless in our profession but for the most part we seem to suffer from low professional self esteem
I find the stuff happening in libraries today so exciting: open source, outreach to underrepresented populations, community involvement, exciting new building design just to name a few.
So I just want to say:
Meredith thanks for doing your part to bring JOY to librar-ness!
Wow! Great comments on my extremely disjointed and meandering post! Mary, I completely agree with you about the self-esteem issue. So many librarians think they have nothing useful to offer other librarians and are afraid of sticking their necks out. I wonder if it’s the culture of libraries that causes it or if it’s just the personality of the people librarianship attracts. Either way, I hope the availability of all these ways to contribute online bring some people out of their shells. If more people contributed, I don’t think we’d be seeing so much conference fatigue. I have said no to more talks this year than I’ve said yes to, and still, I feel completely overwhelmed. There are a lot of opportunities out there and a lot of burnt out people who would be happy to give up many of the opportunities they do get.
As far as the whole OCLS thing goes, I really hope we hear something from the folks at OCLS as to why they went to a for-pay format for their webcasts and why they chose such a high (in my opinion) price point? As Karen said, it better deliver at that price.
Scott, that is a great point about the impact one can have when speaking at a conference like ALA. I was kind of gripe-y about the whole not getting compensated thing, but I had so much fun, met so many great people, and hopefully inspired at least one person to try playing around with social software who never did before. It’s a different kind of benefit, I guess. That said, I still think we should be compensated or at least not have to pay to register.
Mary said, “Meredith thanks for doing your part to bring JOY to librar-ness!” to which I add AMEN!
I was totally psyched by the idea of “Five Weeks to a Social Library.” I’m not so hot on Second Life because I have seen how MMORPG’s can suck up someone’s life, and I’d rather see librarians in the flesh in reference rooms and at circulation desks than hunched in front of a computer…
However, I think one of the most important things you have done is to focus on communication between librarian and librarian, librarian and library, librarian and staff, librarian and library student. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own personal project that you can forget the rest of the world…
Thank you for reminding us to reach out.
I would like to take back my entire comment. (I would have deleted it myself if that were possible.) Compared to the original post and the other comments, the random act of babbling I committed was completely off-topic, could not have possibly contributed to the discussion, and simply took up too much space. I just didn’t understand the topic.
Julian, your comment wasn’t off-topic at all! In fact, I’d be amazed if anyone could actually define what my post was about in any concise way. It was a very stream of consciousness post and your comment was appropriately stream of consciousness and building on what I said about having confidence in your ability to provide something useful to others in the profession. You should also have confidence in your ability to provide something useful in this forum. I really loved what you said about feeling sometimes like there’s no place for you to contribute. I think we’ve all felt that way at some point in our careers. I know I certainly felt that way before I started my blog. I certainly never thought anyone was going to read it!
I’m enjoying watching you step out more into the profession and become more visible. You’ve gone from being a commenter I don’t really know to a colleague whose friendship and insight I value. Keep up the fight!
I want to second what Meredith said- that it is really exciting to hear from people who are just entered/entering the field. I have to tell you that some of the most brilliant, visionary people I have met in libraries have not been librarians at all. They made their way to libraries as staff people with skills in IT, public relations, human resources, educational theory etc, graphic design etc. I love the variety of people that make their way into libraries and I have no doubt that you also have amazing skills to bring to the table.
AND indeed I hope that we can persuade and support you to be an IMPORTANT part of the FUTURE of LIBRAR-NESS
WE need all the help we can get!